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Throw a Thanksgiving Cocktail Party with Seattle’s Pro Bartending Couple

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Anu Apte and Chris Elford (and Willett) take their bartending experience to the home front.

Dust off your party equipment. Start stocking the bar. Call—or text—your pals: It’s Party Season, the perfect time of year to show off your well-honed hosting skills and bring all your favorite people together.

A key tenet of the bartender’s code? Treat each bar patron as you would treat a guest in your home.


A Seattle-based bartending duo takes this creed seriously. Anu Apte, owner of Belltown’s Rob Roy and Chris Elford, member of the Bon Vivants and bartender at Canon, know that small details borrowed from a professional setting conjure the same hospitality guests crave at a friend’s home.

Heed the pair’s industry tips for a friendly fall cocktail party—antique teacups and pumpkin punch bowl included. The downside: Your guests may never want to leave.

 Large hollow pumpkins are nature’s perfect punch bowls. 


  • Antique teacups are truly versatile drinking vessels. They’re elegant and equally perfect for serving chilled punch or hot drinks. Plus, you can find them on the cheap on eBay.
  • The same goes for glassware: Elford and Apte often find filigreed mixing glasses online for under 20 bucks by searching the term “martini pitcher” instead of “mixing glass.”
  • Invest in a home soda maker—now. With the power of cost-effective carbonation at your fingertips, you can craft endless varieties of highballs or small-scale punches.
  • No one has time to hand-cut cocktail ice at home. The easy alternative? King cube silicone ice trays. Keep your oversized cubes in top form by quarantining them in a freezer bag to avoid serving ice that tastes like the ghosts of TV dinners past.
 Pumpkins party hard when turned into juice for flavoring cocktails. 


  • Want to serve Thanksgiving in a glass? Apte uses an inspired technique to capture the holiday essence in her cocktails. She extracts and clarifies the juice from squash or pumpkins and pairs the flavorful liquid with bourbon, allspice dram and other warm spices.
  • Keep your fridge stocked with simple syrup. A cinnamon-infused or tea-laced syrup—made with leftover pumpkin- or fall-spiced tea bags—makes it easy to throw together a fancy Old Fashioned at a moment’s notice.
  • Tiki drinks are usually associated with sweltering summer, but Elford believes they’re a prime fit for Thanksgiving as well. Their island spices, like cinnamon, clove and allspice, all overlap with fall flavors. Elford’s favorite example (and ideal Thanksgiving drink): The Lion’s Tail, a variation on the Whiskey Sour that swaps in lime juice and allspice dram as the sweetener.
When in doubt, bring out more pumpkins and fill ’em up. 


  • Always keep a reserve of sparkling cider or wine. Even the inexpensive kinds can stretch cocktails or punches—and they never go bad. Elford and Apte use the trusty bubbles to finish their Tomahawk Punch, a heady blend of bourbon, ancho chile liqueur and honey syrup that’s served in a hollowed-out pumpkin.
  • Punch was originally invented to make poor-quality liquor potable. So if you can’t buy all top-shelf spirits, aim to use high-proof products when you can and balance them with bubbles. If a punch recipe isn’t jiving flavor-wise, Elford always advises taking one ingredient away, rather than adding another to the mix.
  • Bonus party trick: The secret bartender tip for getting wine stains out? Elford carries a Tide To-Go stick in his bar kit in case of emergency clothing or carpet spills. Being prepared is, after all, a major part of being hospitable, both at home and behind the bar.


Photos courtesy Joshua Huston

Recipes: Tomahawk Punch
Locations: SEATTLE
Series & Type: Entertaining

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